Chris Grayling asked Network Rail to delay announcing problems with a rail upgrade until after a Commons debate about the railways, it has emerged.
According to the Yorkshire Post, a senior Department for Transport (DfT) official told rail industry leaders in an email in January last year that the transport secretary did not want the delay to an electrification project in the North West to be made public until after an Opposition Day debate on rail franchising.
The delay to the project, which caused the botched introduction of a new timetable by operator Northern in May, was not revealed publicly until the day after the debate.
Labour's shadow transport secretary, Andy McDonald, said the party would be raising this matter in Parliament this week.
He told the paper: ‘We all knew of Chris Grayling’s disdain for Parliament but these emails reveal the depth of the transport secretary’s contempt for the House of Commons.
'Grayling denied MPs of all parties full information about delays to nationally significant rail upgrades ahead of an important Parliamentary debate on rail. Once again, he’s not being straight with either MPs or the public.’
The Yorkshire Post said emails it obtained under the Freedom of Information Act show a discussion between senior rail officials on 9 January 2018 about the delay of the line upgrade between Preston and Manchester.
The paper said that emails show the DfT's 'Director of Network Services, Rail', whose name is redacted, replying that officials agreed on Network Rail ‘leading on low key local communications’.
The official added: ‘The [secretary of state] would prefer the announcement were sooner rather than later but not before the Opposition Day debate on Rail tomorrow afternoon / evening.’
According to his LinkedIn profile, Brian Etheridge CBE, now retired, was the DfT’s director of rail network services from December 2015 to January 2019. However the DfT declined to state who its director of rail network services was at the time or confirm Mr Etheridge wrote the emails.
The paper reported that a Commons debate about rail franchising on 10 January, no mention was made of the delay to the electrification scheme.
However, on 11 January, local media in the North West reported Network Rail saying that ‘poor ground conditions’ had delayed the completion date for the electrification project from May to Summer 2018, the Yorkshire Post reported.
Despite the written evidence that Mr Grayling asked for the announcement to be made after the debate, a DfT spokesperson said: ‘The secretary of state asked for the announcement to be made as soon as possible.’